The fear of losing our entitlements

The fear of losing our entitlements

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I was lucky. They taught me, with an iron rod, what was called Scripture (later known as  Divinity) at school when I was nine. It does leave me at a disadvantage in terms of computers and contemporary gadgetry where, frankly, I flounder. We didn’t have those; but what we do have is an inexhaustible supply of good stories and characters in the Bible which devotees of PG Wodehouse, for instance, will certainly recognise.

One of my favourite quotes is: ’Now King David waxed old and well-stricken in years, and they covered him in clothes. But he gat no heat.’

I am sure that, in one translation of that particular Kind David passage, it is rendered as ‘they covered him in rugs but he gat no heat’. I may be wrong but I prefer ‘rugs’. I like the idea of the king peeping out of a roll of rugs like those Indians a friend of mine described, a year or two back, when visiting the deserted Raj bungalows of Ootacamund. It is cold up there in the  hills at certain times of year and some of the people, he said, go up to the deserted bungalows and roll themselves in the old Raj carpets for warmth, their heads peeping out at each end, like cream in a brandysnap

I am older than old King David by some years (he died aged seventy) and not many things get me hot; at least, not hot under the collar these days, but…

I was a small boy of three when war was declared against Germany. I have watched dogfights in the brilliant blue skies of 1940. I saw the alarm, fear even, on my mother’s face, listening, when the news about Dunkirk came through on the wireless. I travelled with her by train from Oxford to Taunton one day in 1942 when we were held up on a stifling summer’s morning and afternoon, with no water on hand, for nine hours in our railway carriage due to bomb-damage on the line. I have crouched under our little school’s kitchen table, when the sirens went off, as a seven-year old  in 1944, and seen stout beech trees blasted by doodle-bugs in the woods near Henley, and I have run after seemingly-never-ending convoys of American trucks, crying out ‘give us some gum ,chum’ (which they did). I have been caned by the headmaster after lunch at school for trying to secrete the bouncy-fatty-gristly thing that passed for meat-stew (was it whale?) into my handkerchief. I wore ill-fitting clothes and painful leaky shoes made of something like cardboard, marketed under the Utility label.

 We all did things like that, and we experienced wartime British in conditions of austerity and adversity unimaginable, it seems, to the likes of Philip Hammond and Mark Carney.

 Yes, I am coming, as you may have suspected, to the Brexit question. As the poet says: ‘Even the weariest rivers wind somewhere to the sea.’

 I am a Leaver by heart and a Remainer by head.  I am a Remainer in the morning (I think of the Ode to Joy and the London property market) and a Leaver at night (Britons never shall be slaves etc). But whatever I am, it makes me hot under the collar and gats me a very great deal of heat to hear the cries of disaster from the two eminent faint-hearts I’ve mentioned and a whole lot of others like them. Leaving Europe will not be a disaster almost beyond the Kuiper Belt of contemplation. We had that in 1939 – there were people, masters of Europe, who wanted to destroy us – and we managed to deal with it. After the No Deal is done, if it should come to it, it will be an exercise in the greater or lesser pulling-in of the belt, nothing more.

Whether it is a good thing or not that we might have to do it is another question – but the enduring of it is not impossible. If we cannot tolerate the thought of discomfort to be experienced in the interests of removing ourselves from the tyranny of the unelected, then we are indeed a fat and lazy nation.

Is leaving without a Deal a thing we could do? Yes it is. Is it a thing we should do? It might well not be. But conjuring up pictures of disaster is no argument against it. Hammond and Carney should be ashamed of themselves, but then they weren’t even in trousers when the bombs were falling and the doodlebugs were crashing all around. They were twinkles in their mothers’ eyes, and sometimes one wishes they still were.

I commend to you Hilaire Belloc’s Ballade of Good Tidings, published I think around the time we came off the Gold Standard in 1931, which starts:

 

The other day the £ fell out of bed,

With consequences that are far from clear;

For instance, Eldorado Deeps, instead

Of jumping up, incline to lurch and veer;

And while Commander Turtle thinks it queer,

Professor Gruff is willing to explain;

But anyhow, the quiet profiteer

Will miss the Riviera and Champagne.

  

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Ballade of Good Tidings

By Hilaire Belloc (1870-1953)

 

The out o’work will miss his loaf of bread.

The half at work will miss his pint of beer,

The city clerk,  who might as well be dead,

Will miss the slight advance in his career.

And very many of my friends, I fear,

Like Algernon (who hasn’t got a brain)

A-pacing hollow-eyed on Brighton Pier,

Will miss the Riviera and Champagne.

 

Ladies and Lords who once on glory fed,

Renaldo, Pharamond and Guinevere,

And Francis, that in glittering armour led,

The long defiles of lance and halberdier,

High Captains of an elder world, give ear –

Caesar and Buonaparte and Charlemagne –

The nobler masters of our modern sphere

Will miss the Riviera and Champagne.

 

Envoi

 

Prince, Oh my Prince, ’tis heavenly to hear!

Stroke the piano; croon it once again…

‘The Rich, the Very Rich, this very year,

Will miss the Riviera and Champagne!’

 

 

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